Every Box Set Tells Its Own Story, and This One Packs a Few Surprises


The story begins in ’52, with bebop and singers and r&b ascendant and big bands on the wane, Basie re-forming his only at the insistence of Billy Eckstine and Norman Granz. Though already on its way to becoming an arranger’s band, Basie’s ’52 outfit sought desperately at first to conjure his freewheeling one of the late ’30s—balladeer Al Hibbler is miscast as a Jimmy Rushing shouter on one session, and Paul Quinichette sounds more like early Lester Young than Young himself could manage by then. Five years and eight discs later, following redesigns by a host of arrangers led by Neal Hefti and Ernie Wilkins, the arrival of Joe Williams, and hits with “Everyday I Have the Blues” and “April in Paris,” the modern Basie sound is paradigmatic, the standard for decades to come not only in jazz but on television sitcoms and talk shows. Listening straight through, you notice things that eluded you before—beginning with the influence of Stan Kenton, whose popularity had surged in the early ’50s as Basie’s dipped. Basie is sleeker, but just as brassy. The big difference was that Basie held power in reserve, which implies compression and restraint—and which explains why hard boppers like Frank Wess and Frank Foster are more compelling in their brief spots with Basie than they were stretching out on Prestige blowing dates. The prize obscurity is an arrangement of Denzil Best’s “Move” credited to Wess and Thad Jones—killer bebop like you don’t expect from Basie.